agile journeys

...rants by Asheesh Mehdiratta on Transformation and Change

Month: December 2017

Pranks and the Power of Questioning

questioningAs a change agent, you have a tough task of raising the awareness, educating, training and transforming the minds of the teams and leadership, while still maintaining your sanity. Sometimes they GET IT! And sometimes they act as innocent kids, enjoying their pranks while displaying passive or active resistance to your change efforts.

To me, this situation seems very similar to the dilemmas of the teaching community, who have similar problems everyday with the school kids. But if you watch the teaching community, one of the techniques they use is the Power of Questioning.

Power of Questioning

Power of Questioning includes asking the right questions, which challenges your teams, and promotes a higher order thinking, incubates creativity and helps them to finally develop learning!

So as a Change Agent, you should start to ask the right Questions, so that you can gather useful information about the team, about their interactions, their personalities, and help you in bonding better. You can start to listen more, with open questions, and practice active listening.

Different Types of Questions

It helps to develop a broad base of questions and mix up different styles. Below are some examples –

  • You can ask Rhetorical questions to emphasize a key point, and create a dramatic effect !
    • Check out some  examples from an education project, which you can customize for your team interactions.
  • But really the most important way is to go with Socratic questioning, which makes the individuals think for themselves, rather than elicit information from you.
    • Check out additional examples from an education project, which you can customize for your team interactions.
  • Other times you can use Reflective questions and it can help with having with Question Cards , examples below –
    • What was easy?
    • What was hard?
    • What did I learn?
    • How will you use this learning in the future?

Check out examples from an education project, which you can customize for your team interactions.

Your Next Steps

Looking at the above examples, you might be wondering that the Sprint Retrospective questions sounds familiar. But in my view, it is simply one of the many forms of questioning that you use at a team level, but the variety and situations are immense for you to experiment and start using this technique in almost every situation. So ask yourself –  if you can use the Power of Questioning everyday? Can you learn and pick some of these questions and apply in your Change journeys?

In my experience, as we learn the process of inquiry and questioning, we become better at it. You will start to use the insight from the process of inquiry to develop cues to asking better questions and you will find your sanity.

Conclusion
Power of Questioning should be an important arsenal in your tool box, and should be a daily affair, and not just at a certain ceremonial point. It engages your teams and leaders to reflect on their current state and make it easy for you to overcome the passive/active resistance in your change journeys.

So next time you see your kids or your teams displaying resistance to your change efforts, and playing some funny pranks, try the Power of Questioning, and see if you can see through their beliefs, and reflect the mirror!

What are your favorite Questions ?  Which questions inspire your team ? Which  questions do you use most often?

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Are you learning from your failures?

failureIf you are a Star Wars fan, and have watched the latest movie The Last Jedi, you would have been struck by the sudden appearance of Yoda, the ‘Grandmaster’ of the Jedi order, and talking to Luke Skywalker about failures.

Yoda explains to Luke, the Last Jedi, that failure is a good teacher, and we must learn from our mistakes!

“The greatest teacher, failure is.”  – Yoda

In the real world,  some teams will fail at various stages in their transformation journey, and others may falter multiples times, before they finally succeed. It is never an easy straight line from point A to point B.

But as a Leader of teams, how do you treat these failures?

Do you reflect on the failures with the team and have an open discussion without any blame?

or Do you punish them for the failure?

Do you ask the question – What have we learnt from this failure?”

If you are aiming to build self managed teams, who can truly recognize their weaknesses and strengths, then it is important to let them fail and learn from their mistakes. It is important that they can do safe experiments, and design a better outcome, and solutions that delights the users.

To help, it would be good to look at Etsy’s culture of running ‘Blameless postmortems’, which talk about “what” happened? and how we can systematically remove the constraints so that human error can be reduced, instead of ‘blaming’ the person.  This is a powerful shift in the mindset and triggers a behavioral change in your teams.

But if as a Leader, you continue down the path of measuring failures, and then punishing the team, the organization culture becomes risk-averse. Teams will then not be ready to take risks, think outside the box, or have crazy ideas, and it would dampen the innovative mindset and creativity that we all humans possess.  You will never learn from your failures.

Conclusion:

To learn from failures is a key trait for successful teams. Even the famed Luke Skywalker had to be reminded by the Yoda, that failure is the greatest teacher!

So, if you can change your behaviors and are ready to take risks, with known constraints, then you will start looking at failures as learning opportunities and of course Yoda would be really proud of you!

So go ahead and ask your teams to share – what has been their biggest learning opportunity in the projects/products that you develop and support? go ahead and conduct the ‘Blameless postmortems’ and you would be surprised pleasantly.

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Why MTTR is my favourite metric?

metrics devopsAs you walk the DevOps Transformation journey, you would build out success stories, build metrics and start to energise teams towards continuing improvements. But to quantify the end user experience, I always look towards the MTTR (Mean Time To Recover) metric.

MTTR is defined as – Average time required to repair a failed component or device. ITIL definitions can be more expressive.

Why MTTR is so useful and is my favourite metric?

Here are few of my reasons

  1. MTTR captures the End user EXPERIENCE,  by capturing when a service goes down and when it is restored.
  2. It shows the SPEED at which your team/organisation works!! Including how quickly the team –
    1. Acknowledges the problem
    2. Solves the problem
    3. Communicates the Resolution to the end user.
  3. MTTR encapsulates the internal dynamics of the teams /organisation.
  4. It is a simple metric and easy to understand metric, without any ambiguity.
  5. It can be measured in any unit (hours/days), which everyone can understand, including the Dev and ops.
  6. MTTR can be captured easily, automated and put across in the dashboard showing trends.
  7. It is applicable across all systems, of varying complexity and size.
  8. MTTR is technology agnostic, and can be understood by everyone – management, executives, support, operate and developers.
Conclusion

You do not want to measure anything, unless it helps the teams/stakeholders, but sometimes you may get carried away to the other extreme of measuring everything also. But MTTR is a simple, easy to understand, easy to capture metric, which serves the purpose of showing the inefficiencies and reminding the teams of the end user experience every time!

So what has been your favourite metric? feel free to share your feedback in the comments below.

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How much time do you allow for Improvements?

This is a common question from many Scrum teams, as they embark on their continuous improvement journey. Multiple teams struggle and then look to the higher powers or just ram through their way. As a Change Agent, to answer this, here is what you can ask them –

Do you allow ‘any’ time currently for Improvements?
  • You would typically hear the team saying as 0% ! and then a good response is to then START Small, with the emphasis on START.
  • You could alternatively talk about doing  10% more than what they are currently doing
  • or simply follow the 1% daily improvement paradigm (aggregation of marginal gains)
  • or you could ask the team about their Pain Index as discussed earlier, and then review from 10-90% of the sprint
So what has been your advice to your teams?

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Are you increasing your Organizational Learnings?

As part of the DevOps transformation, one of the main challenges is building bridges across Dev and Ops and start to build TRUST.

But TRUST cannot be built by simply flipping a switch !! It is never easy.  So how do you start ?

Sometimes, the trust starts to build between teams when they start to share their internal  success and  failure stories .  Trust starts to build when  they start to create Transparency across the walls. But this requires them to  start to share and start to speak a Common Language .

Today if you ask any Development or an Operations teams, they have conflicting goals, and their languages are  poles apart. The language manifests in the form of different process, different artifacts and different formats which they share with their management and teams. There is a BIG GAP!

So how do you reconcile this GAP ? Ask if you can – 

  1. Can you codify your team  processes?  
  2. Can you automate these process steps ? 
  3. Can you codify the creation of your teams artifacts?
  4. Can you automate the creation of these artifacts?

Benefits of Common Language

The benefits are huge, if you start to codify this implicit and explicit knowledge across teams. As you start to codify, you can start to automate and the benefits will  further increase, as this knowledge can now be shared across teams, repeatedly, and improved,  and in the end will lead to increased organisational learning.

So if you are able to codify, automate and share your knowledge across development and operations, you will be on your way to  maximize your organizational learning!

Go ahead and share how you increased your organizational learning?

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Watch out for these Top 5 CoP Failure patterns

Sustaining Communities of Practice is an art and probably a science and can best be build using the framework in my earlier post. I also talked about the CoPs Success Patterns but if you watch out for these Top 5 Failure patterns also while building your CoPs, it may lead you to a better place than where you are right now. So let’s jump right in and reveal these patterns –

1. Big boys club

In this pattern, there are only management bigwigs who only do the TALK,  but fail to WALK the Talk. In effect they will be able to make splashy presentations, but will not have real community members or an engaged community audience. Only the marketing would be the highlight but there would be no real sharing of new ideas or experiences.

2. Solopreneurs

In this pattern, there is a SINGLE Volunteer/Lead who hogs the limelight and runs the show. The individual shamelessly blocks the entry for other volunteers or robs the “community” feeling for the CoP. With no recognition for the remaining volunteers or the community members, this is doomed to failure sooner than later.

3.  Passion-less Glow

In this pattern, the community runs as a Mechanical Robotic system, organizing and running events, but more from a top down hierarchical mandate, rather than a network of  passionate individuals coming together for a cause or passion. These CoPs survive but usually die as soon as the mandate drops.

4. Dropped Anchor

Every community needs key individuals who are the anchor for the community. This is typically the CORE group, which is passionate, driven, and is a community builder, who love to share and grow and learn together. If you do not have these Anchors in your group or these Anchors move out, the community can lose the momentum and slowly fade away.  So watch out for the dropped anchor effect.

5. Big Brother Conflict

Sometimes if the community is driven bottoms up, it can suddenly run in rough weather with the senior leadership if there seems to be a direct threat or conflict to the larger ego or interest of a senior manager.  The community initiatives can be killed or simply degraded if the big brother is not on your side and has his own agenda. So watch out for the big brother conflict.

So these are some of my Top 5 Failure patterns to watch out for sustaining your CoPs. Which failure patterns have you seen? 

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Top 5 Success patterns to sustain your CoPs

Sustaining Communities of Practice is an art and probably a science and can best be build using the framework in my earlier post. But, if you follow these Top 5 Success patterns to sustain your CoPs, it may lead you to a better place than where you are right now. So let’s jump right in and reveal these patterns –

1. Band of brothers

Successful CoPs have a small circle of Brothers  (or Sisters), who have a good rapport with each other and are always acting and building upon each other’s  strengths and weaknesses, as they build and grow the community.

2. Diversity Rules

Successful CoPs have a good diversity across the team in terms of young and old blood. They build an ever growing tribe across different functional roles and/or departmental silos, which are typically found in large enterprises. This community diversity keeps the energy flowing.  The diverse mix allows varied opinions to surface and not let the community be constrained by any single dominant group.

3.  Musical chairs helps

Formal CoP structures offer positional authority in enterprises, and can be a key element to drive and link back to the larger organisational goals. But these formal positions whenever kept optional and /or rotational always keep the individual honest.  These help in structuring the community in the right direction, without any hidden agendas. Thus musical chairs for the community positions is a key enabler and an important success pattern.

4. Ride the Fast Lane

CoPs which can piggy back on organisational strategy and business objectives will always succeed! So if your CoP can ride the fast lane and align with the business strategy, then funding and a management support will appear magically. The community will be able to grow faster  organically, but will also get champions with the top down mandate and grow inorganically.

5.  Circle of Life

Communities which can build a positive circle of energy, with frequent learning systems and sharing among the membership,  and will have a chance of sustaining for the longer term.  As new members grow, community engagement goes up and increases the learning’s, thus leading to a completion of the feedback loop with more ideas and more events, and more members joining building on the momentum.

So these are my Top 5 Success patterns to sustain your CoPs. What are your favorite success patterns ? 

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